hikers at lookout

5 ways to keep ecological integrity in mind this fall

It’s not hard to see why so many park visitors plan to visit in the fall: the changing colours, migrating birds, and sprouting mushrooms make a visit all too enticing!

Not to mention the cool nights that are perfect for a cozy campfire with no bugs to interrupt!

Almost everyone that visits parks share something in common: they want to experience nature. To do that, it is all our job to maintain the ecological integrity of parks.

What is Ecological Integrity?

Ecological integrity can be a tricky concept to nail down. But in the simplest terms, it means keeping nature, and all of its component parts, whole.

If you want to learn more about ecological integrity, check out our guide to understanding EI!

Planning a fall colours visit to a park this fall? Here are the top five ways to keep ecological integrity in mind during your visit:

1. Don’t litter!

garbage in park

Imagine: you wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to beat the crowds and hike all day!

You’re the first one to step on a beautiful hiking trail that day. But then, you spot cigarette butts. Food wrappers. Random garbage. On the trail. In the bushes. Hanging from trees.

Not exactly the nature experience you signed up for.

Please don’t be the person to ruin other’s experiences. Throw your trash in a receptacle. Don’t see a garbage can? Plan to take your garbage with you.

2. Stay on the trail

group taking selfie

The second you veer off the trail, you’re treading on the habitat of countless species, possibly including at-risk species depending on the area.

What may look like a rotten log to you is home to mushrooms, burrowing, and cocooned insects, and other life. Critical habitats exist alongside of trails.

It is not uncommon for park staff to find a new trail beaten to a dead end; a clear signs that visitors have prioritized taking a shortcut or snapping a selfie over the health of our forests.

Please keep your travels to existing trails.

3. Don’t take mementos

mushroom

It’s incredibly important that you leave the park as you found it.

Not only does that ensure that the next visitor can have the same magical experience you did, it also maintains the ecological integrity of the park.

From fiddleheads to fungi, foraging has become very trendy in recent years. Fall is a season where we see an increased interest in foraging.

But foraging for any fungal or plant species in Ontario parks is prohibited.

And that’s for good reason: it hurts wildlife and increases the risk that future visitors will not be able to enjoy the same parks we do. Harvesting by overzealous visitors threatens the survival of certain plant and fungi species.

4. Watch the road

car on road

Craning your necks to take in all the fall colours is perfectly fine if you’re standing on the shore of a lake, but it’s downright dangerous when you’re driving a car.

Please don’t take a long gander at fall colours from any roadway or highway. Go to designated parking spots or day use areas.

Some amphibians and reptiles are on the move again as temperatures cool and they search for winter resting grounds.

Watching the road carefully for these critters can make an important impact on their populations.

5. Join community science groups

person taking photo of plant

There’s a growing number of apps that allow you to identify and contribute data to citizen science efforts.

With apps like iNaturalist and E-Bird, visitors can make important contributions to our growing body of knowledge on a wide range of species.

These contributions help us conduct research and protect the wildlife within parks. For example, some visitor-submitted data have helped us discover new invasive species!

There are so many parks in Ontario that offer an unforgettable fall experience.

But wherever you go, please consider doing your part for ecological integrity to make our park system unforgettable for years to come.